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SIDMOUTH

From White's Devonshire Directory of 1850

SIDMOUTH ranks next Torquay and Exmouth among the fashionable watering places on the southern coast of Devonshire, and surpasses them both as a warm winter residence for invalids, especially those afflicted with pulmonary complaints. It is a pretty market town and bathing place, picturesquely seated at the mouth of the small river Sid;- open on the south to the English Channel, but sheltered on every other side by the towering sea cliffs, and the verdant hills, rising boldly on either side of the deep valley, to the height of nearly 500 feet above the level of the sea. It is distant 16 miles E. by S. of Exeter, 6 miles S. by E. of Ottery St. Mary, and 10 miles E.N.E. of Exmouth. Its parish contains 1539 acres of land, and increased its population from 1252 in 1801, to 3309 souls in 1841, and they have since been augmented to about 4000. It is said to have been a borough, under the government of a port-reeve, in the 13th century, and to have been, at a much later period, an important fishing station, until the loss of its fishermen and boats, in a severe storm, at an unknown date. We do not find any records of the borough, or of the grant of its market; and it was but an inconsiderable place, about 50 years ago, when it began to put forth its pretensions to cure the evils attendant upon luxury and disease; and if we may judge from the rapid increase of residences and accommodations for that purpose, within the last fifteen years, the public seems to have assented to the claim. The market is held every Saturday, and the market-place is also well supplied with provision on Tuesday and Thursday. Here are two annual fairs, on Easter Monday and the third Monday in September. There are here a few small fishing boats, a fort, and a coastguard station; and about 400 women and children are employed in making Honiton lace. The manor of Sidmouth was given by Wm. the Conqueror to the abbey of St. Michael, in Normandy. During the succeeding wars with France, it was given to Sion Abbey. After the dissolution of the monasteries, it was successively leased to the Gosnell, Periam, and Mainwaring families. In the reign of James I., Chpr. Mainwaring, Esq., sold it to Sir Edward Prideaux, Bart., whose descendant sold it to Thomas Jenkins, Esq., whose nephew sold it to Edward Hughes Ball Hughes, Esq., the present proprietor, to whom the town is indebted for many of its modern improvements. In 1839, an act of parliament was obtained, for building the present commodious Market-house, and granting the market dues to the lord of the manor. In 1835, the inhabitants, fearful of the incursions of the sea, which are continually wasting neighbouring parts of the coast, commenced the erection of the excellent sea wall, which cost about £2500, of which £1200 was given by the lord of the manor. It was completed in 1838, and affords a dry and very agreeable promenade, upwards of 1,700 feet in length. The town is well lighted with gas, and has recently been supplied with pure soft water, from the Colmaton springs. It has some highly respectable shops, several good inns and hotels, and many well-furnished lodging-houses and villas, suitable for the middle and higher class of visitors. Petty Sessions are held at the Market Hall about once a week, by the magistrates of Woodbury Division. In 1820, Sidmouth was recommended as the residence of the late Duke of Kent, then in a very delicate state of health. He came here accompanied by the Duchess and her present Majesty, but died after a short residence, in the 53rd year of his age. That distinguished statesman, the late Rt. Hon. Henry Addington, was created Viscount Sidmouth, in 1805, and in 1844. was succeeded by his oldest son, the present Viscount, who resides at Richmond Park, Surrey, and occasionally at Up Ottery, in this neighbourhood.

The beach at Sidmouth is situated in one of those hollows, or curves, of which there are many in the vast bay of Devon and Dorset, extending from Start Point in the former, to the Isle of Portland in the latter county. On the east and west sides of the town rise two immense hills, about 500 feet high, running northward from the peaked cliffs, with a deep valley between them, through which the little river Sid runs to the sea. Along the bottom of this valley lies the town, with a considerable part of its front towards the sea. On the slopes of the valley, extending about a mile inland, are the suburbs, studded with villas, cottage-ornées, and every description of marine residence. The bottom of the valley is an alluvial deposit, formed by the denudation of the hills; and the escarpments on the rugged and precipitate face of the lofty cliffs shew the stratification of the new red sandstone formations, capped in some places with the upper green sand, and in others with small portions of the chalk formation. Many feet of hard limestone rock crown the top of Dunscombe hill, though great quantities have been taken away for building purposes. These rocks are highly fossiliferous; many beds of shells, both bivalve and univalve, occur among them; and various ammonites and echinites are not rare. The beach is pebbly and shelving, and the pebbles consist chiefly of rolled flints, and marbles, often of great beauty; green sand pebbles, wood agates, chalcedony, and other siliceous productions are often found. Some of them contain crystals of carbonate of lime, which possess the double refracting power of Iceland spar. It was proposed to construct a harbour at Sidmouth in 1811, and the subject was revived in 1836, when the first stone was laid with much ceremony; but after expending a large sum of money, the work was discontinued, as impracticable, or not worth the great expense which its completion would have required. There are usually nine bathing machines on the beach; and on the Esplanade is a commodious Bath House, fitted up in a superior manner, with hot, cold, tepid, and shower baths. There is a large Assembly Room at the London Hotel; well supplied Subscription Reading Rooms, &c., in the late Bedford Hotel; and two large circulating libraries in Fore street. Pleasure boats, wheel chairs, carriages, horses, and donkeys, are always ready for the accommodation of visitors, on reasonable terms. Fortfield has recently been appropriated as a place of resort for the public and the Sidmouth cricket club; and the town and neighbourhood afford an inexhaustible mine for the study and amusement of the botanist, geologist, and conchologist, as well as to the lover of picturesque scenery. Balls and concerts are frequently held at the Assembly Rooms; and on every Monday afternoon from July to October, visitors are allowed to inspect Knowle Castle, the delightful marine villa of T.L. Fish, Esq. This elegant and tasteful residence is a thatched quadrangular building, of one story, containing about 30 rooms, and surrounded by about 11 acres of ground, divided into lawns, gardens, and conservatories, containing rare and choice specimens of botany, as well as many fine specimens of foreign birds and animals. In the house, are several suites of rooms, with tables, on which are spread innumerable articles of bijouterie, vases, minerals, shells, china, &c. Cotmaton Hall is the handsome seat of John Carslake, Esq.; and here are several other large and elegant mansions, occupied by wealthy families. The manor of Radway belongs to the Jenkins family; and that of Old Hayes was held by the late Lord Gwydir. Several beautiful seats in the neighbouring parishes of Salcombe, Sidbury, Bicton, &c., are other pages.

The Parish Church of Sidmouth, dedicated to St. Nicholas, was originally in the perpendicular style; but from the alterations and additions of the last and present century, very little of its ancient character remains. It has a tower and six bells, one of which was added in 1844, by T.L. Fish, Esq. A south aisle and gallery were added in 1822, and the church has now room for about 1,500 The Rev. Wm. Jenkins, M.A., is impropriator of the great tithes, and also patron and incumbent of the vicarage, valued in K.B. at £18. 15s. 5d., and in 1831 at £484. The tithes were commuted in 1839, and the glebe is about 23 acres. The New Church, dedicated to All Saints, is a small neat chapel of ease, at the north end of the town, erected in 1839, at the cost of about £2000, raised by subscription. It has a small endowment, and about 800 sittings. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of Sir J. Kennaway and others, and incumbency of the Rev. H. Gibbes. Here is an old Unitarian Chapel, built about two centuries ago, by Presbyterians. The Independent Chapel is a neat building, erected in 1846, at the cost of £1200. Here is also a Wesleyan Chapel, built in 1837, at the cost of £600; and the Plymouth Brethren meet in a schoolroom at Fort-field. Sunday Schools are attached to all the places of worship; and large National Schools, for boys, girls, and infants, are connected with the parish church, and supported partly by subscription and a portion of the parochial charitable funds. All Saints Church School was built by subscription, in 1848, and has a house for the mistress. Here is also a British School, commenced in 1848. The self-supporting Dispensary was established in 1830, for the medical relief of the sick and infirm, who contribute small weekly payments. Religious societies are supported by the congregations of the churches and chapels; and the town also supports a Poor's Friend Society, a Ladies' Benevolent Society, a Penny Club, a Coal Charity, a Blanket Charity, &c.; and has a Masonic Lodge, and several Benefit Societies. The Gas Works were established in 1837, and the Water Works in 1845, but the latter were enlarged in 1849.

The Poor's Lands, &c., which have been long vested with twelve feoffees, in trust for the poor, and public uses in Sidmouth parish, comprise 22A. 1R. 7P. at Salcombe, let on long leases for £32. 11s.; and 16 acres at Harpford, let for £18 a year. They were partly purchased with £120 left by Anthony Isaack, in 1639, and partly received in exchange for some parish land at Dawlish. The rent of the land at Harpford is applied in providing sacramental bread and wine, and in paying the organist's salary. The rent of the land at Salcombe is applied in schooling poor children, repairing the church, and relieving the poor. An old almshouse, given by John Arthur, in the 26th of Elizabeth, was exchanged about 1805, for the piece of land on which the parish school and poor-house are built. The Sexton's House, given by an unknown donor, was rebuilt about 20 years ago. A tenement, let for three lives, in 1808, for 5s., but now worth £15 per annum, is supposed to have been left to the poor by Robert Blower. The master of the parish school has the dividends of £30 old South Sea Annuities, purchased with £40 left by the Rev. - Burroughs. The poor have the interest of £60, left by John Conant and John Curtis; and of £50, left by Oliver Cawley, in 1779.

Brian Randell, 7 Mar 1999